You have to be myopic and completely focused and unbalanced in every way. Once you’ve achieved success, you’re free to do whatever you like.~ Kevin O’Leary
You have to be myopic and completely focused and unbalanced in every way. Once you’ve achieved success, you’re free to do whatever you like.~ Kevin O’Leary
I’ve embraced this slow philosophy for most of my professional career. As with Stearns, I too have become a believer in how much can be accomplished in normal 40-hour weeks; if you’re willing to really work when you’re working, and then be done when you’re done. It’s nice, however, to see someone so much more eminent than me also find success with this fixed-schedule approach.~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2022/10/21/professio-sano-in-vitam-sanam-on-balancing-work-and-life/
The other day I had a most surreal experience. I was at home. The weather was gorgeous and I spent most of the day on the patio. For about half of the day I did nothing in particular. And I felt—in the moments when I was doing nothing—that that was fine.
I have often experienced this surreality, but always when I have been away. Always, critically, when I had intentionally spent time planning and working to create space to be away. Think of it like getting a running start to coast through the away time; the experience of that surreality had always been while coasting.
“…and then be done when you’re done.” But the other day? I dunno. I did stuff, and then I was done, and that was okay.
In the end, what matters is your lifestyle. The specifics of your work are important only in how they impact your daily experience. As I summarized, when choosing a career path: “Fix the lifestyle you want. Then work backwards from there.” This idea, which I dubbed lifestyle-centric career planning, subverted popular advice from that period which tended to emphasize the importance of passion and dream jobs. In this widely-accepted schema, the full responsibility for your ongoing satisfaction was offloaded to the minutia of your professional endeavors.~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2022/08/25/the-most-important-piece-of-career-advice-you-probably-never-heard-2/
Somewhere we each have a box full of specific things. I have a plastic storage tub full of electronic accessories—a spare hard drive, a spare ethernet switch, various cables, an extra mouse, the HDMI cable, and the power adapter for the rest of the world. As a kid, I had a huge styrofoam cooler (it’s a long story) full of Lego bricks and parts. I’m not talking about the proverbial “junk drawer.” I’m talking about a proverbial “box” into which we place specific things. My electronics accessories, my printing supplies, my rock climbing gear, and even all the bookcases considered as one “box.” It’s pretty obvious—I hope?—that since we’re continuously adding things to the boxes, we need to periodically “dump out” the box and cull. The cables that don’t fit anything we currently own… The books we didn’t like or enjoy… Every time I dump out some “box” and toss (or sell or donate etc.) some of the items, my life improves.
This morning I was thinking: When is the last time I dumped out my box of people? …my box of responsibilities? …my box of things I think I should do? …my box of dreams?
The world is this continually unfolding set of possibilities and opportunities, and the tricky thing about life is, on the one hand having the courage to enter into things that are unfamiliar, but also having the wisdom to stop exploring when you’ve found something worth sticking around for. That is true of a place, of a person, of a vocation. Balancing those two things—the courage of exploration and the commitment to staying—and getting the ratio right is very hard.~ Sebastian Junger
Nothing really belongs to us but time, which even he has who has nothing else. It is equally unfortunate to waste your precious life in mechanical tasks or in a profusion of important work.~ Baltasar Gracián
From this experience I learned what legendary writers call ‘killing your darlings’—the plot points and characters that detract from a novel. Sometimes you need to stop doing things you love in order to nurture the one thing that matters most.~ Scott Belsky
[The common refrain is t]hat what you do for work doesn’t define you. That the health, hobbies, and relationships you cultivate outside the office are more important. That you’re a human being, and not a human doing, damnit.
It’s the kind of thing that sounds great in the abstract. Yet, no matter how often we rehearse it cognitively and rhetorically, it never entirely resonates viscerally.~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/you-are-kind-of-your-job/
I define “work” as: The things I do so that I can trade the results with others. We can all trade in many ways, but a common way to trade is to use money as a way of storing and exchanging value. I don’t think I’m veering off into economics. That definition is critical. There are an enormous number of things which I do that, by that definition are not what I’d consider “work.” How much work one does in terms of hours-spent is going to vary tremendously (and it’s going to vary for countless reasons). There are 168 hours in a 7-day week. If one works 50 hours a week, that’s fully 30% of your total time. Conversely, if one works 5 hours, it’s 3%.
Let’s take it as true that what one does for work matters. That it matters in a real way, which affects your physical and mental health. I do believe that one is able to outgrow this need for meaningful work; I do think one can grow from our inherent nature of a being in need of meaningful doing, to become simply a human being as Mckay (and many others through history) has pointed out.
As one works less, doesn’t it become increasingly important that each moment of work be good work? A couple good hours a week used to make those 50-hours-a-week good. Where’s the “good work” balance for 5-hours-a-week? This inherent need to do work that matters gets stronger as one’s trading-with-others needs diminish. This seems to me, to suggest that the necessity of shifting to the “human simply being” becomes more urgent.
Once we feel like we’re a little good at something, we cling to that. We cling to wanting others to think we know things and are good at things. We cling to the feeling of knowing what we’re doing.~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/destroy/
Balancing continuing to work on what I know, and single mindedly focusing on something new, is the challenge I can never seem to resolve. Destroy all the things I know? …that doesn’t end well. Destroy some of the things I know? …sure, but which ones.
Too often there is a chasm between our ideas and knowledge on the one hand and our actual experience on the other. We absorb trivia and information that take up mental space but get us nowhere. We read books that divert us but have little relevance to our daily lives. We have lofty ideas that we do not put into practice. We also have many rich experiences that we do not analyze enough, that do not inspire us with ideas, whose lessons we ignore. Strategy requires a constant contact between the two realms.~ Robert Greene
This is one of the main obstacles to forming habits. Our hopeful idea of how it will go, and then our disappointment and frustration with ourselves when it doesn’t go that way.~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/perfectionism/
Nerd alert: I’ve always appreciated that Babauta takes the time to craft the URL paths (often called the “slug”) by hand. They’re not simply auto-generated from the titles of the posts. I love that this particular one, about perfectionism, has a single-word slug that contains the word “perfect”.
While writing this post I spun off to discover Grammar Monster. Yikes! Driven by my perfectionism, that’s the sort of thing that I could spend hours in. I backed away from it very slowly.
The small choices we make on a daily basis either work for us or against us. One choice puts time on your side. The other ensures it’s working against you. Time amplifies what you feed it.~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/small-steps-giant-leaps/
I don’t truly know if I’m unique. For me, the only way I can manage to feel as if I’ve enough time in my day is if I’m ruthless with myself about not giving my time away. I’ve spent so many decades feeling harried and busy… only to realize, duh, I did that to myself. I’ve spent so many dark days simply wanting some peace… only to realize, duh, all this craziness, I chose that. Somehow, I managed to slowly let this same idea Parrish mentions seep into my bones. Now I feel like I’m able to relax and simply experience being, through most of my days. Sometimes, I even take naps. My 25-year-old self would be horrified.
It’s the relative appeal of the two paths that determines which one you take. You can equalize these by improving the intended path (making public transit better), obstructing the desire path (making driving worse), or a combination.~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/paths/
This article starts with a simple concept and then iteratively goes far into the weeds to see where else it can be applied. I love minds which explore that way. I have so many habits, idiosyncrasies, and ancient brain quirks that it’s a miracle I ever get anything done. Everything figuratively within my reach is wearing down and coming undone, (entropy wins in the end.) I’ll take any opportunity—as this article suggests—to tip things towards my desired path.
No matter where your adventure takes you, most of what is truly meaningful is still to be found revolving around the mundane stuff you did before you embarked on your adventure. The stuff that’ll be still be going on long after you and I are both dead, long after our contribution to the world is forgotten.But often, one needs to have that big adventure before truly appreciating this. Going full circle. Exactly.~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2008/06/25/meaning-scales-people-dont/
And so we get to the crux of our human predicament — the underbelly of our anxiety about every unanswered email, every unfinished project, and every unbegun dream: Our capacities are limited, our time is finite, and we have no control over how it will unfold or when it will run out. Beyond the lucky fact of being born, life is one great sweep of uncertainty, bookended by the only other lucky certainty we have. It is hardly any wonder that the sweep is dusted with so much worry and we respond with so much obsessive planning, compulsive productivity, and other touching illusions of control.~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2021/12/20/four-thousand-weeks-oliver-burkeman/
For years I’ve been finding myself judging my day, each evening as I go to sleep. I lie down, and try as I might, my thoughts go beyond simply reviewing. I tried to stop doing the judging part, to no avail.
There’s a Steve Jobs quote about asking himself a question each morning, and that’s great, (but not something I do.) I realized that I’m asking myself that question at the end of each day after closing my eyes to beckon sleep:
If that was the last day of my life, am I satisfied with what I did?
Life is about tradeoffs. When we know what to say no to, and we know why, we can say yes with comfort and confidence to the things that matter. To the things that last. Work, family, scene. You can have two if you say no to one. If you can’t, you’ll have none.~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/work-family-scene/
The words “work”, “family”, and “scene” are of course maleable. I’d argue there’s a fourth—”self” or “health” would be the word I’d choose—and the admonition should be expanded to, “choose any three.” None the less, there something that feels to me very true about it being necessary, in the way the gravity is necessary to obey, about picking two of those three. There was a time when I chose work and scene. It was interesting, for a while. It wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. What’s your list, and which are you choosing?
In everything the middle course is best: All things in excess bring trouble to men.~ Plautus
Total efficiency constrains us. We become super invested in maintaining the status quo because that is where we excel. Innovation is a threat. Change is terrifying. Being perfect at something is dangerous if it’s the only thing you can do.~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2019/01/getting-ahead-inefficient/
Change is good. (Although, Don Draper’s comment stands, making a different point.) Today I’m making a big change to some of my personal routines. I want different results than I’m currently getting… or pessimistic-me would say, I want some results rather than the none I’m currently getting. I’m not going to dive into what exactly I’m changing.
Instead, I want to touch on the how I’m changing things. I imagined a blank slate— a day with nothing. Then, what’s something I’d like to do? Okay, let’s put that into my day, (or week, month, life, etc..) Then, what’s something I keep “falling into?” …some habit that I see repeating, which I want to avoid. Okay, put something in which blocks that habit. One might have some non-negotiable blocks. (I’ll point out that those are not truly non-negotiable. They’re just costly to change.) Okay, I’ll put those back into my day.
The hard part is not putting too much back in. It’s the same as with packing my bag for a trip. I set out what I want to take. Then I pack the bag. I assess the degree of over-stuffage. (Notice the verb “to lug” lies within “luggage.”) Next, I unpack the bag, and reduce things. Finally, I repack the bag.
So, when is the last time you dumped out your luggage?
The day is actually quite spacious, if we don’t try to overfill it.~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/unrushed/
It took me far too long to learn this lesson. Or, perhaps I should practice improving my self-talk: I’m so glad I understand this now. For a couple months early in 2022 I had a sticky-note about “urgency?” on my monitor. That had a profound effect on me. Is the house on fire? …okay, then where is the urgency coming from? Hint, Craig: You brought the urgency to the situation.
But, why? Why does the urgency creep in for me? I make long (long loong) arguments out in my mind about how each of the things that I’m doing, represents an intentional choice. At one time, I used to allow other people to choose for me. (I know, right… That’s nuts.) But these days, I’m working out the lesson that just because I choose, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice. One choice, two choices, three choices, four, five, six… and the day is over-full. Quick! All these things need to be done—I chose them. Hello, urgency.
We have far more control in our lives than many embrace. We create or co-create our experiences in life, and each day is a new opportunity to be fully engaged in the present moment. It’s the present moment where glimpses of our potential are revealed and expressed. A living masterpiece is not drawn on a canvas or etched in stone or inked by pen. It’s the pursuit and expresssion of applied insight and wisdom.~ Michael Gervais
I disagree with, “[w]e have far more control…” because clearly we actually have no—absolutely no—control. If that strikes you, I suggest you pause. Imagine something you have control of. Now imagine the scenario where your control is taken away. I’m not trying to scare you; there’s nothing here you don’t already know. All of the “control” is fleeting; that’s not actually control. That an illusion of control.
If I could change that quote I’d just quibble with that first, “control,” and suggest it be changed to “choice.” Because the rest of that quote is frickin’ powerful. Literally every person has choices. For me, my “worst case” choices are quite rosy. (“First World Problems” is the meme.) There are certainly people who are literally only able to choose among various evils.
The illusion of control is toxic. But the reality of choice is empowering.
I’ve been up for more than two hours today. I’m completely paralyzed by too many things to do. At this point—this point right here where I’ve opened the text box to write a blog post—I’m simply flailing. Simply grasping at any action.
Where’s the actual problem though? The paralysis isn’t from external pressures; it isn’t that I cannot figure out how to get things done in time, or on budget, to meet other’s expectations. All the expectations come from myself. This is a theme which has come up previously here multiple times.
Luke 4:23 springs to mind. What would I suggest if someone came to me with these exact symptoms, and asked me for help? I’d suggest visualizing what would success look like.
“It would be not this feeling!”
Yes, okay. Can you describe the current feeling?
“It’s a frenetic, cacophony of ideas and options, making me feel like progress—progress is clearly possible upon each idea and option, but progress upon any idea or option feels pointless.”
I notice you said, ‘feels pointless’, … why use ‘feels’ rather than ‘is’?
“Because I know that I could easily finish, at an awesome level of execution, any one of these things. So just picking one of them, arbitrarily, for discussion, progress on that one would move it towards completion.”
Are you saying that working on any of one of them— when you focus on that line of action alone— that actually feels like a good idea?
If considering one feels okay, but considering all of them makes working on them feel not okay…
“But how do I choose? How do I be sure that I can finish all of them— all of these projects?”
You are aware that you cannot be certain to finish anything. This last thing you’ve said is a fact of life, because of the dichotomy of control. If you’ve only chosen to work on virtuous things— let’s take that as a given— then all these things you’re struggling to pick among… they’re all nothing more than preferred indifferents. Pick one, since they are all equally awesome. Chop wood. Carry water.